Stressed men are more attracted to heavier women, says study

Nadine Bells
Shine OnAugust 9, 2012

Curvy women, rejoice. Not all men want stick-thin models at their side.

A new study, published in the journal PLoS One, found that stress levels influence attraction — and that stressed men prefer plumper women.

Forty-one heterosexual men underwent stress-inducing exercises and were then asked to rate the attractiveness of women in photographs whose bodies ranged in size from emaciated to obese. A control group of 40 men not under stress were asked to do the same, CTV News reports.

The researchers found that the stressed men rated the women with a "significantly heavier female body size as maximally attractive," and heavier bodies more attractive in general, compared to the control group which picked slimmer women.

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"Our body size preferences are flexible and can be changed by environment and circumstance," explains Martin Tovee, one of the study's authors. "We need to understand the factors shaping body preferences."

Scientific American points out that scientists have long believed that attractiveness is "really just our way of interpreting how good a person will be as a mate." People identify cues associated with health, well-being and fertility. In some cultures, thin means healthy. In others, it means you're starving.

In times of stress and hardship, it makes sense for men to be attracted to women "better equipped to handle times of scarcity," Scientific American continues.

And fat reserves make women "better equipped."

"A primary function of adipose tissue is the storage of calories, which in turn suggests that body fat is a reliable predictor of food availability," explain co-authors Viren Swami and Martin J. Tovée in their PLoS ONE paper. "In situations marked by resource uncertainty, therefore, individuals should come to idealise heavier individuals."

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Essentially, from an evolutionary perspective, more weight is associated with better odds of survival.

"In contexts marked by prolonged stress as a result of resource deprivation, individuals may idealise larger body sizes because such body types are associated with better ability to handle environmental threat," the researchers write.

Other studies support this, showing that hungrier and poorer men prefer larger women.

The researchers hope their findings will eventually help explain why beauty standards vary from culture to culture — and why beauty standards often vary within cultures, LiveScience reports.

Watch the video below for a candid and fun discussion about whether Plain Jane ladies stand a chance with men.

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